February 21, 2003
Masorti Funds Overdue
Those of us who have been involved with the Masorti movement have long been frustrated by the lack of support from the Conservative movement as a whole in the United States for our brothers and sisters in Israel (“Conservatives Ask Rabbis To Bail Out Their Israeli Arm,” February 7).
The recent decision of the Rabbinical Assembly to take upon itself the task of raising significant sums for the movement in Israel, as well as the plan to involve all of the other arms of the Conservative movement here, is long overdue and most welcome. We applaud Rabbi Reuven Hammer, president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, for his vision and determination. Members of the Conservative movement in North America must come to realize how intimately their own identities and religious convictions — and those of their children and grandchildren — are tied up with the growth of Masorti Judaism in Israel.
Rabbi Gordon Tucker
Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism
White Plains, N.Y.
Sosúa’s First Settler
Although my former teacher Luis Hess lived for a while in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, he was not the first Jewish settler to reach the village of Sosúa (“Refugees and Kin Clinging to an Island of Saved Souls,” December 13, 2002).
My parents, my brother and I escaped Germany in March 1939 to the only place we could go, the Dominican Republic. My father was released from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp with the understanding that we would leave the country — which is a story unto itself — and we ended up in Santo Domingo, then known as Ciudad Trujillo.
While there, my father unsuccessfully tried several ventures. After one year of desperation, he turned to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. There he was told about Sosúa and was asked if he would be interested in moving there to become a farmer. At his wits’ end, he accepted. So in April 1940, we moved to Sosúa and became the first settlers there.
My father was considered colono numero uno, or settler number one. Not long after we arrived there, more refugees arrived and settled in Sosúa. We were assigned a farm and moved from the town known as Batey to an old farmhouse in a region called Laguna.
There were two roads in the area: one called “el Ferrocaril,” and the one on which we lived, Cabarete RD. These two roads were connected by a dirt road right near our farmhouse. After we moved there, that road was given the name Weinberg Way, and was registered and mapped as such.
That is how Sosúa started.
The area was not a jungle, as reported by the Forward, but rather farm country. Before we arrived there, the United Fruit Company owned the area. Then-president Rafael Trujillo “decided to buy the property” from the United Fruit Company and gave it to the JDC to be used to help settle Holocaust escapees.
When we arrived there, my father, who was an accountant in Germany, was given the task of plowing fields. He was given the name Don Jacobo — he was born Jacob Weinberg —because he was one of the first settlers who learned how to speak Spanish and was able to talk to the natives. My brother left Sosúa in 1947, and I left in 1953.
Forum’s Separate Peace
The February 7 Letter from Porto Alegre is little short of astounding (“At a Leftist Summit, Cheers For a Separate Mideast Peace”). With Israel about to celebrate its 55th birthday, we’re supposed to feel grateful that a bunch of leftists now recognize its “right to exist.” Thank you very much.
New York, N.Y.
The World Social Forum that took place in Brazil drew tears of joy from me. The amazing Letter From Porto Alegre implied that there may be a place for us at long last.
From an unexpected source comes an unexpected response that exposes the hunger for peace that wrestles with itself everywhere, even among those who seemed as if they’d given up hope. Let us welcome its rebirth and remember it. Let us pray for its continuance. It is a transfusion whose flow cannot be blocked, but it must have lots of other donors.
Belgrade Jews To Stay
On the Shabbat morning when the Forward visited our Jewish community in Belgrade, we had a special guest from Israel and I can account for almost every member of our congregation (“A Community Rises Up, and the Young Move Away,” January 24).
On that particular day, there were more people under the age of 30 than over. It is unfortunate that the Forward was not impressed that in a place with all the problems that Yugoslavia has there were so many young people in the synagogue on a regular Shabbat morning.
As a rabbi, my primary concern is to teach and bring Torah to my community. I do not avoid religious topics because they are not popular. On the contrary, I spend time every day promoting these values and ideas, not sidestepping them with cultural subjects or Israel — not that I do not believe that Israel is central to the Torah ideal. It is true that I have devoted a lot of my attention to translation projects, but this is not some sort of personal escape. Is it not obvious that having books on Judaism in Serbian is an important step toward making my community better educated and committed?
What a wonderful moment it was the first Rosh Hashana that my congregants held in their hands a full Hebrew-Serbian machzor and could follow the entire service in translation. I look forward to them holding a similar siddur, machzor and maybe one day a translation of the Chumash. This project is important because, unlike the Forward insinuates, there will be Jews here for the foreseeable future.
Rabbi Yitshak Asiel
Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro
While the shocking loss of the entire crew of shuttle Columbia pained us beyond words, Colonel Ilan Ramon’s behavior sadly did not portray the “epitome” of Jewish observance, as was claimed by a quote in a February 7 article (“Hero’s Death Uniting a Community”).
Chilul Shabbos, the profaning of the Sabbath, for any reason other than opportunity of the saving of a human life, is nonobservance, however noble the intention of the individual may be. Being Orthodox and Torah-observant is not about symbolism or the upholding of tradition. It is a way of life, dependent upon specific actions or, in many cases, inaction.
Interpreting Petr Ginz
Based on my curatorial experience with children’s arts, I respectfully differ with the Yad Vashem interpretation of Petr Ginz’s drawing that Colonel Ilan Ramon took into space (“The Quiet That Envelops Space,” February 7).
I believe what Petr was depicting in his bleak, dark, yearning forms were his feelings in the concentration camp of living the dark and alienated experience of those who are frustratingly and for no reason kept apart, squelched and sequestered, totally outside “normal” society, outside and apart from the sunny world he had known previously. The “normal” sunny world is seen in the work as something apart from his current separated existence, almost like a faraway memory, dream or ideal.
That Petr used as his metaphor a picture of earth so like that which the astronauts see when they are on their missions is astonishingly prescient. However, his picture shows our world glowing almost like an unreal memory, with a warmth exaggerated to show all that his world is missing, where the light of those memories — being the only light in his picture and, we may assume, perhaps the major illuminating force in his life at that time — is somehow keeping him going despite the distance and the limited reflection.
Let us hope all our current generations on earth can learn to appreciate and protect the light of our existence, so that our children may never again need to depict so bleak a landscape of their lives.
June Kozak Kane
International Museum of Children’s Arts
Fulani no Antisemite
The Forward, together with other voices in the Jewish community such as the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith, have spent 20 years reacting to a critique by Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani of our government’s relationship to Israel and to their commentary on black-Jewish relations in the United States (“Head of Mideast Dialogue Group Has Ties to Fulani,” January 31).
Those reactions have come complete with massive distortions of their views, all of which appear designed to “prove” that Newman and Fulani are antisemites, which they are not.
While I freely acknowledge that Fulani’s statement that Jews “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel and are required to do the dirtiest work of capitalism — to function as mass murderers of people of color — in order to keep it” is provocative and emotional, I do no comprehend what can be considered antisemitic about it.
One might disagree with Fulani’s account of events between Israel and the Palestinians, or their implications. But to call her an antisemite because of that statement makes no sense.
New York, N.Y.